William Shatner on Working With Christopher Plummer: ‘I Admired Him Enormously’

Christopher Plummer Remembered
Caitlin Cronenberg for Variety

The difference in our ages was only three years, but in those early years in Montreal, Chris was more advanced as an actor, with experience and talent. He was part of the theatrical scene of Montreal, and he was making a living working on Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio and in theater. I had the opportunity to join a coterie of actors that the CBC producers would use for their radio dramas, and that’s, I believe, where I met Chris.

At the Stratford Festival [in Ontario in the 1950s], Chris was playing the leading roles, especially Henry V, and I understudied. He got sick one night, and I went on for him with no rehearsal whatsoever, and it was kind of a big deal for me. So our careers interwove in those early years, as he stuck mostly to theater and I was mostly into television and film.

I admired him enormously for his great talents and his sophistication. He was a very elegant young man. Very good-looking. Aquiline nose. The way he dressed and the way he spoke — he brought a classicism to what he played. He was part of the Laurence Olivier group of actors that I so admired, all those great English actors. They enjoyed life after the show — and sometimes before the show. I didn’t know how they were able to remember the lines, they enjoyed themselves so much!

We kind of lost each other as our careers took different paths.

As you can imagine, having three kids, over the years they’ve played “The Sound of Music” many times. He was terrific. You know, he’s not a singer, and he was surrounded by singers, but it was a great step forward for him. He was his elegant self, as the role called for.

We came together, finally, on a “Star Trek” movie [“Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country”]. Some of that classic training was shown as he tackled a clever script. Chris was so wonderful in it. I felt like I was inviting him to my home. I felt an obligation to him because I’d been his understudy [years ago] and I’d gone on [for him] and I’d gotten some acclaim. He was a level above me for the longest time, and I would imagine you could see that in my face if we were being filmed. He was an extraordinary actor, and an extraordinary person.

I went up to Stratford for the first time in years, and I interviewed him at great length for a documentary that I was making [2013’s “Still Kicking”]. I got to know him better in that interview than I had in all those many years. He had a tremendous, very dry sense of humor. We laughed a lot about our mutual experiences in Canada. Was I a great friend of his? I don’t know. I certainly was a great acquaintance of his. I wish I’d gotten to know him better.

— As told to Adam B. Vary

William Shatner is an actor, writer, producer and director. Christopher Plummer died Feb. 5 at the age of 91.